One of the most important elements in any hunting situation is your access to and from your treestand. And lets face it, not all properties are created equal in this regard. A lot of factors come into play that determine how you choose your entrance and exit routes. The main objective is obvious, to alarm as few deer as possible and therefore, preserving the area for the present and future hunts.
Morning hunt entrances can be exhausting and at times very stressful mainly because it requires us to avoid walking across fields where deer are still likely to be feeding. It is often necessary for a hunter to walk 2 or 3 times the distance just to skirt the deer in the fields. Theres nothing more stressful than putting forth all the effort to be at your treestand 1-2 hours before light, then being startled to death by a deep snort and a single deer bounding off. Sometimes this happens and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it but keep trying. It's one thing to try to avoid the majority of the deer in the fields, mainly the does and small bucks, but how do you avoid the witty mature bucks who leave the fields at about the time you get out of bed? The answer...keep trying! In general, you will spook a lot less deer if you are to the base of the tree 1 hour or more before FIRST LIGHT...not sunrise. Sometimes you may hear the scatter of a deer off in the distance, sometimes you don't. You may have no other choice but to use these agricultural fields to get you close to your destination and if this is the case, it could be advantageous to wait until well after daybreak to give the deer a chance to leave. Remember, your main goal should be to alarm as few deer as possible.
On long journeys, it's next to impossible to get to your stand without being drenched with sweat and furthermore stinch. Even on the coldest of mornings this can be a daunting task. Perhaps the best thing to do is to pack all your exterior clothes in a duffle bag or pack wearing only your thermals. You would be surprised how much you can cram into an average sized pack and it's relatively easy to carry. And for those of you have the will power, strip down to your underwear when you get to your stand change out the clothes you just contaminated, put the dirty in a plastic bag and close it up tight in your pack. A lot of times, I will practically set up camp at the base of my tree to kill some time before daylight because there's nothing fun about sitting 30 feet up in a tree, just to fall asleep in the dark and be awakened by the feeling of falling. Safety harness or not, thats not fun! But at least you are there and ready.
You commonly hear hunters say they prefer evening hunts over morning hunts any day. Part of this reasoning could be because, in most cases, accessing evening stand locations are relatively easy and stress free compared to it's morning counterpart. Most of the time, evening stands locations are at or near the fields edge where the deer come to feed. A simple walk across a field and up into your stand you go.
However, for those of you who are successful at harvesting the biggest and smartest bucks in your area year after year, you would know that hunting a field edge is not always an option if you want to catch a bruiser up on his feet during shooting hours, especially if the area is prone to some hunting pressure. In this case, an extensive awareness of bedding areas is critical to be able to slip in and around these spots undetected. Basic bowhunting 101 has taught us to set up between the bedding and the feeding areas. This sounds really simple, right? Well, not always. Different deer and age classes bed in different areas and require an altogether different level of security. Does have a much higher tolerance of human pressure, and commonly bed in areas that may be close to a house, road or even close to where you park your truck. This can present a challenge if you must get in a little deeper and closer to a mature bucks core area. In general, does are fairly curious and want to know whos coming and going. I have even found that does will change their normal bedding area to a place where they have encountered a hunter a time or two because the would rather know and then run off, then to not be bothered at all.
Mature bucks are a completely different story. Mainly because they've spent most of their life learning where the absolute best spot is to establish their core area. These areas are very well thought out. And once they find these spots where they spend the day, they hate to have to move.Have you ever wondered why you always witness the does and small bucks run off but rarely even see a big buck? It's like they don't even exist, but I assure you they are there. Mature bucks are not curious at all compared to females. They do everything in their power to keep you from even knowing they were there. For example, they may position themselves on the back and downwind side, just over the crest of a ridge top. This offers a couple different advantages. First is, what they can't see they can smell and vise-versa. If you are slipping through down in a creek bottom, they are likely to look down and see you long before you see them. If you are walking down a ridge, they will either hear or smell you coming and just drop of the side of the ridge with out you ever knowing they were there. This is probably one of the most popular types of bedding areas but can be difficult to locate because its not always a thick area.
So needless to say, it is not easy to get into and out of your stands undetected. But there are certain land features to look for that will increase your chances of success.
Gulleys, ravines, and ditches
Perhaps the best land features for slipping to a fro you rstand are the use of gulleys, ravines and ditches. Not only are they really effective at concealing you as enter, they also provide a quieter approach because it really muffles the sound of your foot steps crunching through the leaves. Combine this with the fact that very few deer spend much time in the bottom a steep gulley and you help to preserve the area for future hunts. And if thats not enough, these types of land features are plentiful in most parts of the country so with a little research, it shouldn't be too hard finding the right path.
However, these features tend to collect a lot of debris. Trees, sticks and leaves collect in the bottom rather quickly so it is really important to go in before the season, sometimes equipped with a chainsaw, and clear the way for a stealthy entrance.
Using creeks to enter and exit your hunting ground can be very advantageous for obvious reasons. They are quiet, leave very little scent and allow you to access areas in the afternoon that you would never dream of hunting any other time than morning. One of my absolute best stands of all time was where I used a ravine (gulley) to access a fairly large creek that, for the most part, had some water in it at all times. I now refer to it as lightning stand because the tree and the stand got struck by lightning and was no longer huntable. Sadly, this was about the only tree you could even get a stand in because most of this area was primarily brush and small tree. Go figure! But what this allowed me to do was access a really thick bottom area that held a lot of bucks. I chose a tree that was right along the creek bank and often hunted it in the afternoons. The hardest part was not getting to the stand undetected, that was easy, even with bedded deer 30-40 yards away. The problem was getting to the platform of my stand be cause the deer could look up through the thick underbrush and see me climbing.
Probably one of the most over looked methods of entering and leaving your hunting area is through a standing cornfield. Grant it, for the most part we as hunters can't wait until the farmers get the corn out because it holds a lot of deer and can next to impossible to hunt . But you can't argue that a standing cornfield during the late season in Dec and Jan can be deadly. Theres also a period of time in October when the deer are really on to acorns so it would make sense to setup in the timber. Walking through a standing cornfield in the dark can be a little discomforting especially if you have watched children of the corn when you were a child! But if you can find the courage, it too can be a great way to access some remote timber. For those of you who have a close relationship with the farmer or if you manage your own plot, leaving out just one row of corn can really be nice. If you don't have this luxury, then what I have done in the past is take a machete and whack the leaves off the corn at least on the last one hundred yards leading in to your setup. Just make sure you do it after the corn has matured or you may not be hunting there at all! However, this may make it more of a comfortable walk with less noise, but you would be surprised just how much noise you can get by with rustling through a cornfield. For some reason, deer just don't pay much attention to the sound of something walking through the corn. Seriously, I have had many situations where I got really close to deer even though I was making at least double the noise as if I were walking through the leaves in the woods. You may be thinking I am crazy but its true. I have often wondering why this is and I've come up with my own theory. First, very few hunters use this method of access and I am guessing the deer rarely encounter any type of hunting pressure this way. Secondly, deer and humans sound exactly the same when walking through corn because it's not the sequential sound of footsteps walking, its merely the sound of a large object brushing against the corn leaves. Give this method a try and I guarantee you will have success.
There are a lot of things that hunters can do to increase their chances of success. In my opinion, your entrance and exit strategies are some of the most important. And don't always think you have to get right in the middle of all the action, where all the sign is located. Use the land features to help you decide where the best spot is. It may not be in the absolute best treestand location in the woods, but in the long run, you WILL be more successful! Best of luck and safe hunting.